07 March 2013

Practicing Presence: Baignan Bharta

I bought some lotion the other day.

Kiss My Face’s “Super-Hydrating Moisturizer” in coconut variety.

I had a coupon and my hands are cracking from all the hand-washing I do and from working in a cold environment (yeah, nobody wants to work those registers by the door). In hindsight, I reflected, as I rubbed the thick cream on my hands before putting on my Halloween sock-gloves before bed, I could’ve saved myself a couple bucks and put coconut oil on my hands. Granted, my sheets would’ve become uber-greasy but my chapped hands might knit back together, thus, uh, lubricated.

Coconut milk is the connection here. You could also roast the vegetables for the following dish in coconut oil. My awesomesauce great-aunt ordered Baignan Bharta or mulligatawny soup at Masala Grill in Princeton when we went out to eat before Thursday night meditation. She ordered it as un-spicy as possible, but I ordered daal or some vegetable dish “Indian spicy.” ‘S how I get my kicks. I don’t recommend going for super-spice before meditation because I found it difficult to settle down after such an expansive, yin experience that is spicy food. Live and learn.

Masala Grill puts peanut butter in the stew and the eggplant is always meltingly soft. Yes, this dish is 100 per cent nightshades, probably not the best choice before meditation because of the alkaloids, an issue if you’re sensitive. When I made it for Laird and Lady Alansyn, I used fire-roasted tomatoes as the base for the stew. Again, hindsight is 20/20 and it was too tomato-y—“Not bad,” as Lady Neona graciously pronounced. P’raps I thought that because I kept the spices to a minimum, and I also don’t eat tomatoes that often if I can avoid them. Instead, I recommend roasted red peppers as the base for the stew, and a healthy dose of ginger to tame them. As I am not Indian nor did I consult with anyone from the subcontinent on creating this dish, I would not pretend for a second that my version is authentic.

Baignan Bharta
Modified from http://indianfood.about.com/od/vegetarianrecipes/r/bainganbharta2.htm and inspired by the version at Masala Grill

2 medium eggplants, cut into 4-inch rectangles, roasted

2 cups dry-roasted onion
1 tablespoon roasted garlic
21 ounces fire-roasted tomatoes OR better yet, about 3 cups of roasted red peppers (roast six and see how much you get)

1/3 cup peanut butter (unsalted, unsweetened, and chunky or smooth, your preference)
1-inch chunk of ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (my aunt always ordered it not spicy, so go for a mild blend if you have one)
cayenne pepper to taste (or add chilies)

1 cup coconut milk (unsweetened from the box or the lite canned kind)

This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: roast all the veg beforehand.

When ready to assemble, heat half the onions and garlic in a large pot over medium heat. Work in the peanut butter until melted.  Clear a space and toast the spices before incorporating. In a blender or food processor, puree the remaining half of the onion, garlic, and all the tomatoes or red peppers with the coconut milk in the blender.  Add to the pot and add the eggplant bits. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve with naan (for those who partake of gluten), Jasmine brown rice, a really spicy vegetable dish, and good company.

Regrets: not taking pictures of what I made for the Alansyns, with the Alansyns.  Memories connected with food make for powerful stuff, and I will always think fondly of Thursday nights with Aunt Ann while I was in school.
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